Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, April 28, 2017

Honoring Wordsmith Heroes

The month of April is coming to a close but the observance of National Poetry Month need not stop.  Let's just think of this month as an introduction to a literary form allowing everyone to express themselves in a variety of writing styles every single day of the year.  If you have a flair for visualizing shapes, pen a concrete poem.  If you wish to focus on the natural world, the five-seven-five syllable haiku is the perfect kind of poem for you.  If you enjoy even more structure, the five line cinquain asking for a single noun, two adjectives, three -ing participles, a four word phrase and closing with a synonym for the first noun is what you should write.  If you like the rhythms of rhyming create a couplet.

Poetry beckons to the universal qualities found in all people.  Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets (Candlewick Press, March 14, 2017) written by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth with illustrations by Ekua Holmes expresses the admiration held by these three poets and artist for twenty other poets.  They have collaborated to inspire others as they were inspired.

In the first of three parts, Got Style?, poets are featured for creating a signature style.  With recognition and respect the poems written about them underscore their individuality.  Kwame Alexander's How To Write A Poem celebrating Naomi Shihab Nye will have you reaching for the nearest means to record your thoughts.  The same peace we find in Robert Frost's contemplations is echoed in Marjory Wentworth's In Every Season.  Gathered thoughts, separated by pauses, lyrically define poetry in a manner reminiscent of the work of Nikki Giovanni using all lower case letters.  Snapshots by Chris Colderley is a loving tribute.

In Your Shoes, the second section, focuses on poetry written by one author (us?) which reads like it was written by a favorite poet.  Beginning with basketball and continuing the analogy dreams are shared, glory days of youth are remembered and heroes of Harlem are saluted in Walter, Age Ten celebrating Walter Dean Myers by Kwame Alexander.  We travel to the private place in Chile beloved by poet Pablo Neruda in The Music Of The Earth written by Marjory Wentworth.  Calm is found in nature by a man devoted to poetry, politics and his people.  Majestic musings about those who walked before us on Tambourine Mountain pays tribute to Judith Wright.  Chris Colderley asks us in Tambourine Things to hold a found fossil in our hands, listening and watch the shadows fall as the sun sets.

In the final part, Thank You, the three contemporary poets write poems regarding those poets who affected them in a deeply personal manner.

A poem can sometimes be so powerful that it might even feel as though the poet is speaking directly to us, as if we are in the middle of a private conversation.

They showcase Gwendolyn Brooks, Sandra Cisneros, William Carlos Williams, Okot p'Bitek, Chief Dan George, Rumi and Maya Angelou.  These poems do indeed beckon but they wrap themselves around you in the glory of the words.  You cannot help but feel the love as each poet's life story is revealed.

This collection of poems written by Kwame Alexander, Marjory Wentworth and Chris Colderley not only pays homage to twenty poets but introduces readers to the particular voice of these three poets.  After reading several of their poems you sense the similarity in how they approach the poet they are showcasing.  No matter which poem you are reading, whether written by Alexander, Wentworth or Colderley, you will find yourself without conscious thought sighing or gasping as you read the last line.  They are all brilliant.  I will share a portion of a poem written by each one.

From Walter, Age Ten
celebrating Walter Dean Myers

I'd like to soar one day
like Sweetwater Clifton high above the rim---
I wanna trot the globe
grab the world in my hands and
twirl a big ball of hope
from corner to corner.  ...
     Kwame Alexander

In Every Season
celebrating Robert Frost
... I have stopped to shake the dry snow
from the branches and watched the outline

of each bare tree sharpen like stone
and considered that quite often

life is too much like a pathless wood.
Still I have lived so long and traveled so far,

and I have climbed these hills and looked
at the world and descended.
    Marjory Wentworth

celebrating Nikki Giovanni

people forget...poetry is not just words on a page...it is...
a snowflake on your tongue...a tattoo on the inside of your arm...a dashiki and a kaftan...
tripping down the streets of Lincoln Heights...shouting from the hills of Knoxville, Tennessee...
    Chris Colderley

The warmth of the color palette and design radiates from the front of the matching dust jacket and book case.  The figure, arms raised and fingers spread, is moving to an unseen music, the poems we have yet to read.  On the back, to the left, on a golden background with hints again of musical notes, a list of the twenty poets is shown.  The deep purple of the title words is spread across the opening and closing endpapers.  The poets being celebrated are royalty in the world of literature.  Portions of geometric golden suns are displayed on the title page.  This design is used throughout the book as accents and for each of the three parts.

The artistic technique for creating these illustrations, collage on paper, used by Ekua Holmes presents readers with unique portrayals spreading across two pages, framed on a single page, as insets on a single page or edge to edge on a single page.  Vibrant colors are woven into each one.  Various papers give a texture to each visual, inviting readers to touch the pages.  Holmes varies her perspective in keeping with the poems.

With each page turn it's as if you are walking through an art gallery.  Elements in the illustrations reference the poet and the place in which the poem is set.  As soon as you finish, you will flip the pages to see all the pictures again.  They are striking...every single one.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the two-page spread for Snapshots.  Page edge to page edge a cool shade of green (teal?) provides a canvas for large snowflake designs.  Small white dots are blended with them.  Some of the snowflakes are in the foreground, some in the background.  On the left a boy wrapped in winter clothing is leaning back tasting the flakes with his tongue.  Opposite him on the right a girl is doing the same thing.  All we see is her face peeking out of a hooded coat.  Red, a darker shade of green and a golden yellow are chosen for their clothing.

Every bookshelf needs to hold a space for one or more copies of Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets written by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth with illustrations by Ekua Holmes.  In a word this title is stunning.  Prior to Kwame Alexander's Preface is a Contents.  At the conclusion of the book six pages are dedicated to giving readers more information about the twenty selected poets.  They are also listed by Ancient And Foreign-Language Poets, Nineteenth-Century Poets, Twentieth-Century Poets and Contemporary Poets.  Short biographical paragraphs are included for Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth.

To acquaint you further with Kwame Alexander, Marjory Wentworth and Ekua Holmes please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. NPR Morning Edition features this title in an interview with Kwame Alexander.  Marjory Wentworth is highlighted at knowitall.org   The Horn Book podcast 2.8 has Ekua Holmes as a guest.  Ekua Holmes visits The Brown Bookshelf for an interview.  At Penguin Random House you can view the first ten pages.  Candlewick Press has created a teacher's guide. Teacher librarian Jennifer Reed wrote a blog post at Reederama about using this title in her school library.
Collage Artist | Ekua Holmes Video from AugustineMonica Films on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

What Words Are Stored In Your Pocket Today

Today is one of those very special days during the month of April when we celebrate National Poetry Month.  This year Poem In Your Pocket Day, if it could speak, would boast about being in existence for fifteen years.  To think people all over the United States and Canada, who officially recognize this day, are reading or reciting poems to each other is marvelous.  Maybe there are people highlighting this day in other countries around the world.  

Children's Poet Laureate (2011-2013) J. Patrick Lewis has penned a truly outstanding collection of poetry designed to honor thirteen poems we have read or heard throughout our lifetimes.  They according to the Introduction by J. Patrick Lewis are among those

that appealed to the tinkering part of my brain.

Keep A Pocket In Your Poem: Classic Poems and Playful Parodies (WordSong, an imprint of Highlights, March 28, 2017) written by J. Patrick Lewis with illustrations by Johanna Wright will fill your heart with joy and put a smile on your face.

To open this display of wordplay Keep a Poem in Your Pocket written by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers is given the spotlight with Keep a Pocket in Your Poem on the opposite page.  We are reminded how the little secret treasures we gather literally and in our imaginations can find themselves in a poem.  I wonder what Robert Frost would think about Stopping by Fridge on a Hungry Evening.  You will shudder at the items still on the shelves in this appliance.

Langston Hughes little house of sugar becomes a little book of cocoa. Readers might prefer an ogre over a goblin.  One has an appetite for macaroni and cheese more than one for mischief and children.  In the dark of night would you like to listen to Mice or Rats?  Trust me when I say, the poetic description of rats found here will send shivers down your spine.

What could a Cocoon and an Armadillo possibly have in common?  They have absolutely nothing in common but that's what makes the contrast funny.  Hope and grief are at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum but even in sadness there is a touch of humor and ...hope.  Thank you Emily Dickinson.  From the majesty of The Eagle to the delight of The Firefly we travel; both times in awe.

Who really ate who in the parody of Infant Innocence?  The message is clearly not to mess with the child who has an empty stomach.  If the fog comes on little cat feet what comes on furious hooves?  We all have a special spot to call our own; a place where we contemplate the wonders of the world.  For J. Patrick Lewis it is This Is My Tree, a reply to David McCord's This Is My Rock.  We close with Robert Lewis Stevenson's Happy Thoughts and drift off to sleep with dreams multiplied tenfold.  This readers is not the final poem though.  In a bit of cleverness a final (or first) pair is found on the back of the dust jacket and matching book case.  A hat tip is given to toads and tigers.

The thirteen selected poets and their poems certainly worked their spells on J. Patrick Lewis's poetic mind.  The results are thirteen poems brimming with contrast and comedy revealing essential truths and connections.  You can't help but nod your head knowingly as you read each one.  J. Patrick Lewis gets to the heart of the poets and their poems spinning replies which readers of all ages will fully understand.  Here is his parody of Langston Hughes Winter Sweetness.

Winter Warmth
This little book is cocoa.
It warms me when it steams,
And from its toasty pages
Spiral my marshmallow dreams.

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case you can't help but be happy.  The soft background of blues and purple with cloud shapes floating above, the smiling children lying on the grassy hill and the toad and tiger on the back all equal total and complete bliss.  The tiny lines used for the children and animals and the delicate plants and flowers are a declaration of the artwork on every page.  A bold, bright spring green covers the opening and closing endpapers.

Rendered in acrylic paint and ink on canvas, then scanned and digitally fine-tuned the drawings by Johanna Wright show children enjoying the simple things in life; playing a guitar, reading a book, swinging on a swing, looking at a ladybug, writing, or making a parade.  Whether the original, classic poem is specifically written for children Wright includes a child in the representative image.  A little girl is holding the horse in Robert Frost's poem.  Sometimes one picture will span both pages joining the poems together and other times totally different single page illustrations heighten the difference in the poem and the parody.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is for Winter Sweetness and Winter Warmth.  The background is a soft gray with large snowflakes drifting down.  On the left a small cottage sits in the deep snow, drifts covering the peaked roof.  A cat peeks out from the upper window and below a little girl looks to the right out the window.  A steaming hot drink is next to her.  On the outside of the house a snowman looks to the right too.  On the right another girl sits on a bench in the snow, reading a book as steam rises from the pages.  The pictures are as calming as the poems.

You will want to read Keep A Pocket In Your Poem: Classic Poems and Playful Parodies written by J. Patrick Lewis with illustrations by Johanna Wright over and over again, silently and aloud.  I know I have.  You could read this any time of the year or any part of the day but today at the close of the school day or right before bedtime, this book is utterly perfect.  Plan on multiple copies and one for you at home.

To learn more about J. Patrick Lewis and Johanna Wright please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  J. Patrick Lewis is interviewed and on video at Reading Rockets.  This title is showcased at Jama Rattigan's delightful Jama's Alphabet Soup.  She includes several interior spreads in her post.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Shine On

There is something soothing about seeing the sun rise in the morning or set in the evening, even if it is covered by clouds at the beginning or end of the day.  The sun's powerful presence is a sign of stability.  We welcome it even on those relentlessly hot summer days.

We know the sun provides us with heat and light.  It also plays a critical role in the sustaining of life on our planet with respect to water.  Rivers of Sunlight: How The Sun Moves Water Around The Earth (The Blue Sky Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., January 31, 2017) written by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm with illustrations by Molly Bang is a timely volume in the continuing The Sunlight Series.  It strengthens your previous knowledge and increases your understanding about water.

My energy warms your days.
I light up your world.

If you stop to think about it, it's remarkable how Earth is the only planet in this solar system filled with life.  As the Sun tells us, it's because Earth is covered with water.  Most of this water is salt water found in the oceans and seas.

 A tiny, tiny portion of fresh water is keeping everything alive.  It accomplishes this huge task by movement.  Water moves on Earth like it travels through our bodies when we drink a glass of water.  The Sun keeps it in motion.

Its heat causes the water to rise from the oceans and seas, evaporating and joining a cloak of water vapor surrounding the planet.  Specks of dust attach to the vapor forming drops which gather to shape clouds.  These clouds release the water back to the oceans and seas.  Sometimes the evaporated water joins another natural force; a river of vapor in the sky.  The rain or snow then falls on land blown by winds generated by the Sun.  Did you know there is a layer acting like

a giant sponge 

underground?  These aquifers save fresh water

for thousands of years.

The Sun continues to shine repeating the evaporation process on all plant life.  Its light ignites photosynthesis after plants soak up water through their roots and release it as vapor.  This cycle of bringing up and sending back down involves

a HUNDRED quadrillion gallons of fresh water

each year.  That number is completely mind-boggling!

Another impressive fact is the Sun works its marvels within the oceans and seas moving water there too.  Its light and heat work their magic on Earth's water at the equator and then moves it in the Gulf Stream.  You won't believe how this water works another kind of magic as it reaches the northern realms.  Think of an enormous waterfall and an equally enormous water highway called the Ocean Conveyor Belt.

The Sun goes on to explain the force of water to affect change in our landscape, to draw populations to its sources and how those people worked to utilize the water.  Did you know

The total amount of water on your Earth will always be the same?

Yet, our population keeps growing.  Another agent shifting the balance is the warming of our climate.  In the final page our Sun makes a pledge and asks a question.  We need to give it an answer which will ensure the continuation of life.

This nonfiction narrative written by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm explains the influence of our sun on our water masterfully.  After we read the words

Together, water and I
give LIFE to your blue planet,
and to YOU 

every page turn offers support for this claim.  The text flows with a cadence like water from the comparisons of amounts of all water and fresh water to its evaporation from the oceans and seas and release back in the form of rain and snow on the oceans, seas and land, to its storage in aquifers, how it moves within the sea, its power to turn rocks into sand or cut canyons, and how the sun and water preserve all life.  Punctuation, words in all capitals and repetition of key phrases generate further pacing.

Questions are tucked in the story with answers presented.  Using the sun as the narrator gives more importance to the information.  You can sense the underlying pride our sun feels as it gives us life.  Readers in turn with feel their respect grow as they are continuously amazed.  Here is a sample passage.

Yes, I move a giant river INSIDE the seas.
Just as water circulates in YOU, to
feed you, flush your wastes, and 
regulate your temperature, the
ocean river does the same 
throughout the seas.

My light heats your Earth's 
equator steadily all year long, so
the surface water there stays warm.

My winds help move a wide current of that
warm water west, until...
the current bounces against land---the Americas!---
and curls back into swirling eddies.

When readers run their hands over the opened dust jacket, they can feel the raised text.  The color palette shown on the matching dust jacket and book case remains true throughout the title with the addition of full color in appropriate places.  The child riding in the boat in the current flowing from Africa is shown in every image engaged in an activity relative to the narrative; floating up with a handful of balloons, riding in a kayak holding an umbrella for shelter from rain or flying in an airplane over canyons and valleys.  To the left, on the back, is an interior picture placed above a list of the other titles in this series, My Light: How Sunlight Becomes Electricity, Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life, Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas and Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth

The opening and closing endpapers are a star-studded swirling mass of deep blues.  With a page turn we are greeted by a stunning array for the title page extending across two pages.  On the right our planet is depicted with the addition of golden waves, lines and curves giving us a vision of how the sun moves water.  These lines move to the left where the secondary text and author and illustrator names are shown along with the publisher.  The child is drifting over the top of the words with a parachute.

The seventeen illustrations by Molly Bang will take your breath away in their marvelous portrayal of the water's movement by the sun.  More times than not she will add animals, plants and other objects like boats in the pictures of the land and sea.  Her details are exquisite.  She shifts her perspective to add more meaning to the text.  For emphasis she encloses visuals with a golden yellow frame within a larger image.  You will find yourself pausing to look at each illustration carefully.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when we learn about the river of water vapor in the sky and aquifers.  On the left snow and rain are falling from clouds to mountains below them.  River branches reach into the mountains.  On the right water is rising from the sea in a wave of evaporation.  The child is riding a carpet on this wave.  Beneath the land we see how the aquifer is formed and collects water.  The design and layout is gorgeous.

Rivers of Sunlight: How The Sun Moves Water Around The Earth written by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm with illustrations by Molly Bang is a must-have title for your professional and personal bookshelves.  You can't help but feel total awe for our sun upon completion of this title.  Everyone will learn something new.  At the close of the book six pages are devoted to further information about each of the sections.  Did you know a single

large tree can transport nearly 100 gallons of water from the soil to the atmosphere each day... ?

To discover more about this outstanding collaborative team please follow the links attached to their names to access websites about them and their work.  There is a separate website for the series linked to that title.  At this publisher's website you can view and read one of the two-page spreads.

Remember to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the title selected by other bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Shapely Shenanigans

Nearly every culture has a trickster as a character in their traditional tales.  Anansi, a spider, is found in West African folklore.  It is believed he tricked the Sky God into giving up the box which held all stories. Originating from China the Monkey King is known to be superhero as well as one able to create considerable chaos.  Brer Rabbit is a well-known figure in African American stories besting through cunning those larger and stronger than he is.  Several Native American tribes share stories with Coyote as the trickster.  In the Northwest section of the United States Raven is strong and through his cleverness brings about change; sometimes for the good of people according to narratives in the Native American culture.

There are two fresh faces to be added to the chronicles of fictional mischief makers.  Triangle (Candlewick Press, March 14, 2017) written by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Jon Klassen will have you looking warily at basic shapes.  Who knew they were such rascals?  (Where were they when I was struggling in geometry?)

This is Triangle.

Triangle is a no-frills character with a wide-eyed expression and two legs to give him mobility.  As you might expect his home is in the shape of a triangle.  His door, a triangle, allows him ease when coming and going from his abode.

He is on a mission today.  He is on his way to Square's home.

He was going to play a sneaky trick on Square.

He treks through varying sizes of triangles, through a place with odd, rounded shapes and into the land of squares, large squares, middle-sized squares and little squares.  It is a mirror version of the realm of triangles.  He finally arrives at Square's square house.

Square, like most of us, has a fear.  He does not like snakes.  Triangle knows this, so he pretends to be a snake outside of Square's doorway (which is in the shape of a square).  Triangle's hissing is causing Square to panic and shout.  Triangle can't contain his laughter any longer.

When Square realizes Triangle has played a prank, he gives chase.  They sprint right by all those squares.  They rush by all those odd, rounded shapes.  They zoom past the triangles until Triangle escapes into his house.  What happens next leaves readers with a point to ponder after they try to stop laughing.

The simplicity of Mac Barnett's text in this story is what heightens the comedic effect.  The repetition of the words triangle and square help the suspense to grow.  You know something is going to happen; something big and hilarious.  The beauty of it, at least for this reader, is it's a completely marvelous surprise.  Here are two sentences.

He walked past shapes that weren't triangles anymore.
They were shapes with no names.

When you first hold a copy of Triangle in your hands you know you are about to experience something exceptional.  There is no dust jacket.  The book case is thick like a board book and has a smaller trim size, perfect for the intended audience. To the left, on the back of the case, is Triangle's back with words designed to make readers eager to open the book and start reading.  The opening and closing endpapers are a pale, mint green.

On the first creamy white page a little version of Triangle is giving readers a one-handed wave.  The publication information is in the shape of a triangle on the verso page.  Beneath the text on the title page, Triangle is on the move.

Jon Klassen rendered these images digitally and with watercolor and graphite.  The generous use of white space allows for the pictures to produce utterly perfect pacing.  Klassen shifts his perspective to heighten our anticipation in addition to giving us an idea of the size of the setting in which the two friends live.  Klassen's eyes on his characters tell whole stories.  Every time I see the single picture hanging on the wall of Triangle's and Square's houses, I burst out laughing.

Two of my favorite of many pictures are without words.  It's right after Square discovers Triangle has played a sneaky trick on him.  On the right Square's scene is the same as the previous page.  His eyes are looking left as he stands outside of his home.  On the left Triangle's page is nearly the same as the previous page but he is to the left of the small flowers.  He is edging off the page.  He is ready to run.

The more you read this book the more you will laugh.  I have lost count of how many times I've read Triangle written by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Jon Klassen.  The blend of pictures and words supplies over-the-top humor.  You will also be thinking non-stop trying to determine the answer to the final question.

To learn more about Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their main online presence. Several publishers' websites have interior images for you to view.  They are here, here and here.  At the Candlewick Press site you will find several extra items to use; an article with the creators discussing the title and an activity kit.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Finding Extraordinary In Errors

There are those days when no matter what you do, little or big, it simply does not turn out correctly.  The harder you try, the worse it gets.  You start looking over your shoulder to see if an evil goblin is following you, sending a dark aura in your direction.  Sometimes when you think it couldn't get any worse, it does but sometimes when you think it couldn't get any worse, something wonderful happens.

A shift takes place.  You start to find the marvel in the middle of your muddles. The Book of Mistakes (Dial Books for Young Readers, April 18, 2017) debut book for author illustrator Corinna Luyken is an exploration of turning blunders into beauty.

It started
with one mistake.

An eye is a little bit bigger than the other eye on a face.  Trying to make them match does not work but adding glasses is exactly what this girl needs.  Oh, oh!  Now her arms and neck are too, too long.  The collar and elbows receive a bit of embellishment.

A big bush is brilliant at concealing the odd being.  What is that creature?  It has parts of three animals.

The girl returns but is floating as she runs.  Ah...the addition of roller skates closes the gap between the bottom of her feet and the ground.  What is hidden behind the newly drawn rock? 

A longer than normal leg is perfect for tree climbing.  Smudges become soaring leaves.  And the girl running with roller skates is on a mission to make a delivery heading toward other like-minded children.  A magnificent scene greets her but readers there is much more.

Stepping back reveals a larger than imagined wonder.  Stepping back more alters your point-of-view with expectations growing until you gasp in understanding.  The power of the mind is a creative force.  Use it.

Those first five words written by Corinna Luyken immediately click with all readers.  We have all made mistakes.  With spare text the narrator talks to us about the process of making art.  We gently swing between mistakes and transformations supplying the story with a cadence. We explore the possibilities offered to us by our errors.  It's an optimistic and inventive outlook.  Here is a sample sentence.

Even the ink smudges
scattered across the sky

look as if 
they could be leaves---

like they'd always wanted
to be lifted up

and carried.

The remarkable use of white space throughout this title begins on the dust jacket.  The soft pastel palette and intricate lines create an atmosphere filled with a little bit of magic.  Already we are wondering about the girl with the yellow balloons and the other children with her.  To the left, on the back, a small boy in the lower, left-hand corner gazes up at smudges turned into leaves.  The text here reads

Set your imagination free

On the opened book case, on the right side, the front image shows the girl and the children flying away from us, higher in the sky.  On the left the boy is now riding a unicycle lifted by a large green balloon.  Three small birds follow the children.  On the opening endpapers all we see are two black ink blots.  The closing endpapers could be a continuation of part of the artwork.  What will you think when you see them?

Rendered in black ink, colored pencils, and watercolor the pictures appearing on the white canvas vary in size and perspective as we journey, contrasting the mistakes and the inspired new illustrations from them.  With each page turn the details increase, allowing us to see how pictures develop when we look with new eyes.  As we move from one subject to another, the original girl, the bush, the rock and the girl in the tree we get the sense something larger is being shaped.  

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages, without words (in fact five page turns have no words).  The girl is running with her skates toward the right edge.  In her left hand she is carrying a single yellow balloon.  In her right hand is a huge bunch of yellow balloons billowing out behind her and filling the left page. 

I think it would be fantastic if every child could have a copy of this book, The Book of Mistakes written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken, to remind them how we can turn the unexpected into a thing of wonder.  If we can't carry this book with us everywhere we should read it enough so the memory will help us to look at everything as a potential for goodness instead of a problem.  I highly recommend this title.

To learn more about Corinna Luyken and this book, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  There are little extras there for you.  Corinna maintains a blog here.  Be sure to read these interviews at author, teacher librarian and blogger Carter Higgins's Design Of The Picture Book and author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

By The Light Of The...

It happens again in seventeen days.  Every living thing around the world waits in anticipation.  Unlike so many variables in our day to day lives, it's dependable and predictable.  It wields an influence that is undeniable.

Classical music, song lyrics, artwork and photographs all pay tribute to Earth's satellite in its many phases but a full moon casts a spell over our planet.  If You Were the Moon (Millbrook Press, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., March 1, 2017) written by Laura Purdie Salas with illustrations by Jaime Kim presents fascinating features about this celestial body.  When it shines its brightest next, you will gaze upon it with increased understanding and respect.

Helloooooooooo up there, Moon!  I'm sooooooo tired.

A big, bright full moon shines in a little girl's window.  She believes the moon does nothing at all and that's exactly what she wants to do.  The Moon replies in fourteen melodic sentences when linked together make a beautiful ode.  Each line leads to an explanation of the importance of the moon and its role in her life.

The moon really is a chip off the old block having been formed when a large meteorite struck Earth billions of years ago.  Its presence keeps Earth steady enough so temperatures don't shift to the extreme.  We never see the dark side of the moon because spin speeds of the moon's axis and orbit are identical.

You'd be filled with craters too if space rocks were constantly hitting your surface.  We see different parts of the moon because of its position in relation to Earth and the sun.  Do you know why the moon casts light?

Our oceans rise and fall on tides dictated by the moon's gravity.  The moon signals a multitude of animals to begin their nocturnal activities.  The only two places in space humans have walked are planet Earth and the moon.  On May 10, 2017, our next full moon, remember to offer thanks for it doing much more than nothing.

Knitting poetic phrases together with facts Laura Purdie Salas has fashioned a nonfiction narrative which evokes the same sensory experience as the moon does upon the world.  It's as if a full moon is lighting the way as we read her words.  She brings the story full circle with the little girl wide awake and soothed to sleep at the end.  Here is one of the phrases with supporting information.

Light a pathway to the sea.

When sea turtle eggs hatch onshore, the hatchlings instinctively scurry toward the brightest light.  That is usually moonlight sparkling on the ocean, calling the tiny turtles to their home in the sea.

The scene depicted on the opened, matching dust jacket and book case is like stepping into the marvelous, magical quiet of a full moon night.  It flawlessly extends over the spine with more grass, shrubs, and tree trucks stretching into the inky blackness with a few stars.  You know the girl and Moon have a special connection.  It looks as though they are about to start a conversation.  The pair of owls completes an excellent design.

The opening and closing endpapers are the same shade of color as the author and illustrator text.  One of the charming interior images is used on the title page.  The illustrations throughout rendered in acrylic paint and digital techniques by Jaime Kim each span two pages; one for each poetic phrase.  The darkness is softened by the light of the moon.

Altered perspectives showcase the narrative and supply pacing.  The facial expression on the moon and Earth heighten the kinship between the two.  Kim's interpretation of the text is wonderful; the moon's orbit extending into hands holding Earth steady, a series of ballerinas spinning on an axis, and throwing sunlight on Earth.  The elements she includes and the emphasis she places on them is outstanding.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is the explanation of the moon's gravity.  Beneath the star studded sky is the vast ocean.  Eyes closed as if in concentration the smiling moon is placed on the right side, filling half of the page.  To the left a whale breaches.  It's easy to imagine the quiet of the night broken by the splash.

No matter how many times you read If You Were the Moon written by Laura Purdie Salas with illustrations by Jaime Kim you will feel like it's the first time.  The combination of the poetic phrases and pictures along with the informative text makes the experience of reading this book a sensation for your senses.  A short glossary and suggestions for further reading are included on the last page.  I believe this title should be placed on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Laura Purdie Salas and Jaime Kim and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  At Laura Purdie Salas's website there are resources for teachers for this title.  Laura is interviewed about this title here.  Jaime Kim has Tumblr pages.   You can learn more about Jaime at Painted Words.  Jaime Kim was a guest at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast in 2014.  You can view interior images at the publisher's website.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Holding Happiness In Your Arms

There is at least one; one always there every single day offering constant comfort.  When you wake up in the morning it's the first thing you see and as you drift off to sleep at night, it follows you into your dreams.    It listens to all your conversations without passing judgment; agreeable to a fault.  It accompanies you wherever you go.  Each gal and guy has a toy, a doll or a stuffed animal supporting them through childhood.

Regardless of the lifespan of this beloved object, the memory of its presence will endure forever.  In her authorial debut, illustrator Stephanie Graegin portrays the priceless partnership between a girl and her cherished toy.  Little Fox in the Forest (Schwartz & Wade Books, February 28, 2017) will make a forever mark on your heart; a breathtaking story without words.

A little girl snuggles in bed with her stuffed toy fox.  Leaving for school she places it on the shelf with her other stuffed animal toys and books.  During her day she thinks often of her fox.

Returning home the duo is inseparable.  Before taking it to show and tell she goes through a box of pictures; the fox is always with her.  After school she stops at the playground, leaving her fox safely tucked in her backpack.  As she swings she sees a real fox sneak away taking her precious pal.

She follows.  And her friend, a boy, gathers her backpack and goes after her.  They wander deep into the forest but can't find the fox carrying her fox.  Knocking on a tiny door at the base of a tree trunk a squirrel gives them directions.  Meanwhile, the fox dreaming of the wonders to be shared with this new friend has a bit of trouble too.

Stepping through the arch in a hedge the children enter another realm; a wondrous place populated by animals.  They seek the fox asking all for help.  A previous encounter by a particular bear aids in their efforts.  Kindred spirits display acts of generosity.

When you open the dust jacket a lush forest scene unfolds.  All the elements hint at events to come in the story, the fox running with the girl's toy fox, the door in the tree trunk and the weasel peeking from behind the tree.  To the left on the back the children are looking for the two foxes as other animals watch from behind trees.  A vest-wearing bear walks away from them in the opposite direction.  A rust-colored bird watches from within the tree branches.  This initial image is filled with delightful details.

On the book case covered in golden cloth, a portrait of the little fox from the forest is placed in an oval shape on the front.  The frame is formed of an array of leaves and flowers.  In shades of blue the opening and closing endpapers are a close-up of the shelf in the girl's bedroom.  Titles on the books hint of the adventure awaiting readers and the resolution.  They are identical except for one important object on the far right on the closing endpapers done in full color.

Rendered in pencil, watercolor, and ink and then assembled and colored digitally the illustrations by Stephanie Graegin appear as single pages, a series of square and rectangle panels on single pages, and for emphasis span two pages.  Until the little fox comes from the forest the color used is the same as the endpapers, hues of blue.  The little fox is in full color.  As the animals appear they are in full color also.  This contrast builds a gentle tension.  Readers know something wonderful is soon to be revealed.

Every time a page is turned you are invited by the exquisite parts of the whole to pause, forming the narrative in your mind.  You can envision the conversations through the facial expressions and body postures.  Your amazement grows until you gasp in surprise and then you finally release a soft sigh at the conclusion.

One of my favorite illustrations of many is when the little fox is running through the woods carrying the girl's fox.  The sneaky weasel wearing a black hat and black jacket is looking at him from behind bushes.  The little fox is dreaming of what joy his new friend will bring as they share a book together, have a tea party and dance.  This is shown in a large thought bubble.  The little girl did some of these same things with the toy.

The telling of this story, the theft, the journey, the discovery, the shared loved for a single toy and the understanding actions of the two, the girl and the fox, is beautiful.  Little Fox in the Forest conceived and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin resonates with readers long after it has been read.  It's one of those books you want to carry with you everywhere, like a beloved stuffed animal.  You will be asked to share this often and you will do so with pleasure.

To discover more about Stephanie Graegin and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  You can get a peek inside this book by following this link to the publisher's website.  The Children's Book Review features Stephanie Graegin and the Little Fox in two separate posts.  Random House has a Teach-Alike post with this title.  Stephanie Graegin was showcased by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast in 2014.  Stephanie Graegin has an account on Instagram.  Here are two posts about this title here and here.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

No More Waiting

Working within the laws as set forth in the United States Constitution, the President of the United States has the ability and responsibility to build lasting institutions, promote programs and introduce new legislation designed for the good of all people.  Our thirty-fifth president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, on March 1, 1961 signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps.  It evolved from a speech made on the University of Michigan campus on October 14, 1960 several hours after midnight.

Let me say in conclusion, this University is not maintained by its alumni, or by the state, merely to help its graduates have an economic advantage in the life struggle.  There is certainly a greater purpose, and I'm sure you recognize it.  Therefore, I do not apologize for asking for your support in this campaign.  I come here tonight asking your support for this country over the next decade.

It is still flourishing today.

JFK believed in winning the space race.  On May 5, 1961 Alan B. Shepard, Jr. was the first American in space.  Twenty days later Kennedy during a speech to Congress strongly encouraged the United States to be the first country to place a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  (On July 20, 1969 our astronauts, Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin, were the first men to walk on the moon.)  John Glenn, on February 20, 1962, was launched into space becoming the first American to orbit Earth.

A United States President can set things in motion to create great change.  On my twelfth birthday, June 11, 1963, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy delivered a speech.  A Time To Act: John F. Kennedy's Big Speech (NorthSouth Books, April 4, 2017) written by Shana Corey with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie chronicles the life of this man prior to and after he spoke.

John F. Kennedy loved to read about history.  But history isn't just in books---it's happening all around us.

We all are a part of history.  We have the power to sway the course of events.  In the Kennedy family of nine children, Joe Kennedy, the oldest, was the favorite.  John, Jack, was not quite sure of his place.  Not only did Jack like to read, he was a writer.  He wrote a book in college which was published with the help of his father.

During World War II, the boat Jack commanded was ravaged.  He made sure the survivors made it to shore alive.  He was named a hero.  Joe was not as fortunate as Jack.  He died in his plane over the English Channel.  The plans Jack's father had for Joe were now shifted to Jack.

From serving six years as a congressman, Jack went to work as a senator.  During his tenure he married Jackie.  By 1960 he declared his intentions to run for president of the United States.  As Jack campaigned, the civil rights movement sought and fought peacefully through protest for equality.  Jack supported their movement in speeches, even offering to assist when Dr. Martin Luther King was imprisoned.

After his election his inauguration speech was an invitation for everyone to participate in helping our country.  President Kennedy was firm and fast on some issues but not for civil rights.  He was repeatedly urged by African American leaders to take action; men, women and children were doing everything possible.  It was not easy but hard and dangerous.  President Kennedy's speech on June 11, 1963 called for freedom for all as promised by President Lincoln.  Those same people who asked for his intervention were pleased with the speech.

Dr. Martin Luther King gave his I Have a Dream speech several months later.  President John Fitzgerald Kennedy did not live to see Congress pass his request for a civil rights law but President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2.  How will we keep making history?

When you live through moments of historical significance as a child or read about them years later, you might not be as aware of all the intricate pieces which shape the whole.  Shana Corey presents readers with those pieces offering us the opportunity to understand the influences which shaped the man who became our thirty-fifth president of the United States.  We meet young Jack, second to his older brother, Joe, writer Jack, hero Jack, politician Jack and campaigning-for-president Jack.

To better comprehend the context of the times in which Jack was running for president and when he served as president, Shana Corey depicts a very real picture of the civil rights movement.  It's as if we are there.  We are asking in our minds for the president to make a move for what is right.  This sense of living back in history is made authentic with specific details and quotations expertly woven into the narrative.  Here is a sample passage.

But on important civil rights issues, Jack was slow to act.
He once declared that the president must be willing to
get in the "thick of the fight."  But now he seemed unwilling
to fight some battles.
"I would like to be patient...," the famous baseball player 
Jackie Robinson wrote to Jack, "but patience has [cost] us years
in our struggle for human dignity."
While Jack hesitated, others stepped forward and acted.
In 1961, young black and white people called Freedom Riders
tried to integrate buses in the south.
Angry crowds smashed their windows.
They slashed the tires.
They set fire to the buses.
But the young people didn't give up.

When President Kennedy spoke you listened; his words profound in his singular voice.  To have him speaking on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case, as the children march beginning on the left side of the back to stand near him on the front, makes an impressive statement.  Above the three young men on the back is a quote from the June 11, 1963 speech.  The white background with blue and red for the text points to this as a segment from American history.

A light turquoise wash spans both the opening and closing endpapers.  In black and white, R. Gregory Christie has created a line of children carrying signs.  On the opening jacket flap a small African American child is carrying a sign.  On the title page a grown JFK is seated and reading a book.

The brush strokes, lines, light and shadows portray vivid emotional moments in images spanning two pages, single pages or small pictures on a single page.  R. Gregory Christie's work is distinctive and original; his people look literally ready to walk off the pages or turn their heads and start talking to us.  The faces of people from history are marvelous.

One of my favorite illustrations is the one appearing on the title page and again in the interior of the book.  Jack, wearing a lighter blue suit with a white shirt and a striped tie is seated in a red chair.  He is holding an open book in his hands.  He has stopped reading but seems to be looking inward.  The expression on his face is thoughtful but determined.

This book, A Time To Act: John F. Kennedy's Big Speech, written by Shana Corey with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie needs to be in your personal and professional collections.  It is one of the finest titles about Kennedy amid the civil rights movement and his life prior and shortly after the June 11, 1963 speech I have ever read for children (for everyone).  Great care has been taken by both the author and illustrator in their presentations.  A two page Author's Note is a must read at the end.  Eight portraits are offered of prominent people appearing in the narrative.  There is a further reading section, a selected bibliography, origins of quotations and acknowledgements.

To discover more about Shana Corey and R. Gregory Christie please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Shana Corey has an extras page with wonderful ideas.  Here is a discussion guide.  At a publisher's website you can view interior images.  At Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog of author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson you can see more images.  Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher, hosts the book trailer premiere on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  He asks Shana Corey to complete sentences for him in an interview.

Make sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the titles selected by other bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

No one knows where or when the first ones were used but it is believed games were played with marbles as long ago as 3000BC; some were found in an Egyptian tomb of a child.  They were originally made of polished stones, fruit pits or nuts or formed of clay long before they were created from glass.  Another game dating back to ancient times is jacks (knucklebones or fivestones).  Prior to the more recent six-pronged metal pieces, bones of goats or sheep were thrown and gathered.  If you were training to be a soldier in ancient Rome chances are you participated in a form of hopscotch according to some sources on the birth of the game.  The courses were said to be one hundred feet long and the men wore all their armor to perfect endurance and strength.

One game for which a variety of theories are proposed as to its origins has been used to make decisions for centuries.  Nothing is needed other than your hands and a keen sense of strategy.  The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, April 4, 2017) written by Drew Daywalt with illustrations by Adam Rex sets forth a story so uproarious it must be true.

Long ago,
in an ancient and distant realm called
the Kingdom of Backyard,
there lived a warrior named

There was no doubting the toughness of Rock; he could not be beaten in any contest. While most individuals would be pleased with this particular reputation, Rock was unhappy with the lack of respectable opponents.  He ventured to the far corners of the land seeking warriors.  Alas, neither pinching nor

tart and tangy sweetness

could beat the power of Rock.  Rock left the Kingdom of Backyard.

In another domain with a lofty peak a second warrior was facing similar issues.  He was called Paper.  His intellect was beyond question.  Threats of gobbling and spitting did nothing to foil this flat fighter.  Sheer numbers found in the Pit of Office Trash Bin were no match for his blocking abilities.  And so, he left the Empire of Mom's Home Office.

In a tiny place within a larger space a third warrior dwelled named Scissors.  Known for her speed, none could conquer her.  Even the multitude of

dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets

from the bitter cold hollow was no match for her blazing blades.  Like the two previous combatants she traveled away from her known home.

As the fates would have it, Rock and Scissors encountered each other in a large arena.  A challenge was issued and a battle unlike any other followed with a victor.  One was happy to be vanquished but the other was sadder than ever.  Behold!  Unaware of the impact of his choice of words, Paper entered the scene speaking.  Two more battles with surprising results yielded a trio of triumphant and happy warriors.  Tribute to them and their respectful friendship is paid with every game played.

You have to admire the mind of author Drew Daywalt who imagined this narrative, a story to be enjoyed by all ages in many areas of the world.  It would be safe to say most people have probably engaged in some form of the game.  To explain its creation with loads of laugh-out-loud humor and inventive perception connects all players.

Expanding on the theme of long ago by naming well-known areas inside and outside homes with royal titles is brilliant.  (I know someone is going to make a map of this as soon as they finish the book.) Combining the use of dialogue and unseen narrator makes us feel as though we are reading an epic tale of heroes and heroines, the likes never to be seen again.  Here is a sample passage.

Rock traveled to the mysterious Forest of Over by the Tire Swing, where he met a warrior who hung on a rope, holding a giant's underwear.

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case the first thing you notice is the distinguishing physical characteristics of Rock, Paper and Scissors.  Placing them in a setting as ancient champions on top of the columns with roses at the base heightens the reader's curiosity.  The rays of light seen behind them are used again to the left on the back.  A bright yellow canvas holds a place for a unique image.  Rays spread from a triangle holding the hand shapes for rock, paper and scissors.  Written in script are the words Ro, Sham and Bo.  (You'll have to do some research if you don't know what those mean.) A slightly darker yellow, similar to the color of title text Legend, covers the opening and closing endpapers.

On the title page the words are chiseled in stone with a leafy crown of laurel.  Beneath this are the numbers 1...2...3... and turning to the verso we see the word GO!  The size and placement of the illustrations add to the pacing of the text elevating spectacular moments.  Images may be smaller surrounded by lots of white space, single page, edge to edge or across two pages.

Most of the dialogue appears in speech bubbles.  When the characters speak the font changes to reflect their personalities; Rock is in bold blocky letter, Paper is in script and Scissors is decidedly geometric as if cut-out.  Their facial features are ingenious.  In fact everything (almost everything) has faces such as the gobs of gum stuck under the desk.  Readers will love noticing the tiny and not so tiny details; Henry written on the waist of the underwear, the moon in a battle scene, or the Abraham Lincoln stamps on the desk.  And the battle scenes...well, let's just say they are beyond comparison.

One of my many, many two favorite illustrations takes place after the first of three final battles.  Without giving away too much when Paper innocently walks in on the finished fight between Rock and Scissors and casually greets them, the eyes on Rock and Scissors are totally hilarious.  In the second picture again the look Scissors gives Rock, Rock's body posture and the startled features on Paper's face are over-the-top funny.  Adam Rex has done amazing work with this book!

This title, The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors, written by Drew Daywalt with pictures by Adam Rex is read aloud treasure.  There have been several conversations on Twitter (look for Stacy Riedmiller @literacybigkids) about the shared laughter between children and teachers and parents.  I can't read it silently without assigning voices to the characters.  And I have startled my dog more than once reading it aloud.  Every bookshelf, professional and personal, needs to have a copy...maybe several.

If you follow the link attached to Adam Rex's name you can access his website.  He has a blog and Tumblr pages for his books.  You can read a sample of this title at the publisher's website.  There is a short activity kit.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Duly Noted-Posted Blog Tour

Surviving middle school is akin to surviving (and enjoying) life in general.  It's a testing ground for becoming who you want to be for the rest of your life.  Everything is under a microscope; magnified and scrutinized.  Cruelty walks the halls alongside compassion.  In surprising moments of utter clarity one will rise above the other. 

Eighth grade, the final year before moving to high school, is when those foggy things hovering in the background of our days move to the front and center, sharply in focus.  Posted (Walden Pond Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, May 2, 2017) by John David Anderson, author of Ms. Bixby's Last Day (Walden Pond Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, June 21, 2016) presents to readers two life-changing weeks for the members of the Branton Middle School community; specifically those of four plus one friends.  Those bonds, of the first four, forged over years are about to be measured.

heart-struck, dizzy.  It takes me a minute to really get what I'm looking at.

When you read these first two sentences of the two page introduction narrated by Frost, Eric Voss so named for winning a poetry contest, there is no turning back.  You are entirely attracted and attached to the story.  Frost takes us on a journey through the previous two weeks blending past episodes with present events.

When Frost came to this school a little more than two years ago due to his parent's divorce, his mother reassured him by saying

"It will be awkward at first, but it gets better.  You find your people and you make a tribe and you protect each other.  From the wolves."

Four guys, highly intelligent but different, find each other.  Bench, Jeremiah Jones, plays football, basketball and baseball but usually sits on the sidelines until there is nothing he can do to alter the course of the game.  Advik Patel, DeeDee, is a Dungeons & Dragons fanatic and collector of polyhedral dice.  He is never without a ten-sided dice, carrying it for good luck and rolling it to make decisions.  Wolf, Morgan Thompson, is a piano prodigy.  His nickname is shortened from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  Frost is certain the other three will someday be sitting in the audience at Carnegie Hall listening to Wolf.   

On a nothing-out-of-the-ordinary day in math class, Ruby Sandals (don't you dare call her Dorothy) is caught texting on her phone.  Of course, phones are not allowed in class but everyone uses them.  What makes this infraction grow from small to ginormous is what Ms. Sheers reads on the screen and the fact this is the final violation of many.  By the following Monday no phones are allowed in school...at all.  If there are special circumstances, they are to be turned in to the office where they will be held for the day. 

Into this scenario walks Rose Holland, a new student.  Now Rose is a big girl, tall and muscular.  She's not afraid to speak her mind.  She's not afraid to ask if she can sit at the table with Frost, Bench, DeeDee and Wolf who have been sitting at that same table for more than two years during every lunch period.  Her presence there not just for one day but for each day thereafter, alters the dynamics of the group significantly.  

With the absence of phones, middle-school student creativity grows to an all-time high.  No one can pinpoint how it starts exactly (it might have been DeeDee) but post-it notes, required school supplies, start to appear everywhere as a means of communication.  Unlike phones, the identity of the author is not always known.  The tone of the notes escalates from funny and friendly to vicious.  

A lunchtime origami session, the introduction of The Gauntlet and Hirohito Hill, Mr. Sword's aphorisms, a spectacular play during a football game, and a night of re-arranging rules contribute to huge shifts in loyalties.  Another school policy rule heightens the stakes.  Then two huge instances of deliberate harassment bookending a contest bring readers to a poignant point.  Utter clarity.

When John David Anderson writes about middle school students it is with a thread of universality running through it.  No matter your age you completely comprehend every aptly described moment and interaction with the characters.  The staff members, the principal and the parents are familiar, like people you know.

For each of the twenty chapters Anderson uses only two word titles beginning with the word the; The Catalyst, The Tribe, The Variable, The Catch, The Bet or The Confession.  It's an art form.  It's amazing to read how incidents, conversations, thoughts and people build layer upon layer from the singular word.  Please enjoy the selected passages below.

People talk about nightmares where they are falling or where they are trapped in a burning building or buried alive.  But ask any incoming sixth grader with at least two forehead zits and a Great Clips haircut and he will tell you the prevailing image from his nightmares is standing in the middle of a buzzing cafeteria, tray in hand, desperately looking for somewhere to sit.  That was what made me sweat through my sheets at night.
Forget the bogeyman; the lunch lady haunted my dreams.

We all need something that's ours.  A thing that we know absolutely about ourselves that others can only guess at.

We started walking toward the playground where our bikes were racked, the swings and slides full of carefree kids, little ones who didn't need a tribe yet because when you're five, everybody's a member.

What made it unique was the battleground.  Every skirmish took place on three square inches.  Sticky notes were the weapons and words were the ammunition.

"Turds," he said.
"Cheetos.  The look like turds.  Little cheese turds.  Especially the stubby ones.  I never noticed that before."  He was sitting cross-legged on his bed with a copy of X-Men #25 spread out in front of him.  The one where Wolverine has his adamentium sucked out of his pores by Magneto.  Brutal stuff.  Good stuff.  I looked at the Cheeto like it was some divine artifact worthy of a museum.  He wasn't wrong.  They did sort of look like that.  I'd always imagined them more as tree roots.
"When I was little I thought they were supposed to look like toes.  Cheese-toes.  Except they left off the s," Wolf said.
"I'm pretty sure nobody's toes look like that," I said.
"I think my grandmother's toes probably look like this."
He popped the crunchy cheese turd in his mouth and started chewing.
"And I'm pretty sure you have now ruined Cheetos for me for life."
Wolf gave me a giant grin with bright orange mush smeared across his teeth.

Posted written by John David Anderson is an intimate and insightful look at middle school life.  He understands the middle school mind.  He understands people and their relationships.  I sincerely believe every middle school student should and will want to read this book.  You will need to have multiple copies on your shelves.  Please read the Acknowledgments.

To learn more about John David Anderson and his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  You can enjoy the first five chapters here.  Click on Start Reading Now!

John David Anderson is the author of Ms. Bixby's Last Day, Sidekicked, Minion, and The Dungeoneers.  A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wife, two kids, and perpetually whiny cat in Indianapolis, Indiana.  This picture is of John David Anderson after he survived middle school. 

Blog Tour Participants

April 17          Librarian's Quest
April 18          Nerdy Book Club
April 19          For Those About to Mock
April 20          Teach Mentor Texts
April 21          Unleashing Readers
April 22          Next Best Book
                       Read, Write, Reflect
April 23          Bluestocking Thinking
April 24          Litcoach Lou
                        Book Monsters
April 25          Kirsti Call
April 26          Educate-Empower-Inspire-Teach
April 27          The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia                                                                                       
                        Ms Yingling Reads
April 28          Maria's Mélange                                                                                                                    
                        Novel Novice
April 29          The Hiding Spot

April 30          This Kid Reviews Books

Friday, April 14, 2017

Campaigning For...

Every single person knows what it's like to want something more than anything else in the whole wide world and having parents who completely disagree with this desire.  As far as said parents are concerned, as long as you are living under their roof, this is not going to happen.  Does that stop children from still believing this is a possibility?  It does not.  In fact, they will devote every waking (and sleeping) moment to figuring out how they can make this dream come true.

Most guy and gals, at one time or another have wanted a pet.  For many of them the only pet which will bring them total and complete joy is a dog.  In her debut novel, Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, March 7, 2017) Kristin L. Gray introduces us to a remarkable girl, not yet ten years old, who is determined to bring a dog into her family.

The day I was born I was four times smaller than the trophy largemouth bass hanging in my daddy's shop.  My entire hand fit on Dr. Lafferty's thumbnail.  Nobody, Mama included, had planned on me arriving three months early.

This is Vilonia Beebe.  She has a twelve-year-old brother named Leon who is more pest than human.  Her all-around great guy dad who can fry the tastiest catfish anyone has ever eaten is a fishing guide.  Her mama is the happy life force of the family but is currently suffering greatly having lost her own mother forty-three days ago.  She rarely leaves her bedroom.

Now, besides her family, Vilonia loves her next-door neighbor and forever friend Ava Claire, a girl with a dancer's heart, softball and Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.  India Opal's love of Winn-Dixie is the chief reason Vilonia has the Great Pet Campaign fully operational though for the time being not too successful.  This is all about to change because of Eleanor Roosevelt.

No, this is not the dearly departed first lady and wife of President Franklin Roosevelt.  Eleanor Roosevelt is a fine egg-laying chicken, the pride of the Willoughby family.  You should also know the Willoughby twins, Rory and Ransom, friends of Leon, are charming, handsome and pranksters of the highest order.  (The family also owns the local fireworks business.)

On the way to her opening softball game for her pitching debut, Vilonia rescues Eleanor from a hit-and-run accident.  After delivering her to the local vet, she notices a sign there proclaiming the benefits of owning a dog, especially for those people feeling blue.  Click.  Now Vilonia has even more reason to have a dog.  She needs to bring her loving mama out of her sadness.

Miss Bettina is the editor of the local newspaper and Vilonia's mama's boss.  Her mama writes the obituaries for the paper; well, she did until forty-three days ago.  Her mama thinks Miss Bettina has been writing them.  We readers discover who is really writing them.

Obituaries, puppies, stink bombs, Mr. Reyes, the school librarian, the library goldfish, Max, Ray Charles, spring break, sour cream pound cake, Viking funerals, Miss Hazel Sogbottom, the vet's assistant, and the Howard County's 47th Annual Catfish Festival are all ingredients in an amazing quest to demonstrate responsibility.  You will laugh out loud, cheer and fall in love with the characters in this book (even Miss Bettina) as they shape Vilonia's world in Howard County, Mississippi.  The conclusion will lift your soul like a balloon on a gentle breeze and fill your heart with happiness.

Kristin L. Gray writes with such clarity and description you will read this with a Southern accent in your mind.  (In fact, I am thinking with a Southern accent as I write this blog post.)  Told through Vilonia's point of view the story is intimately tied to readers.  We connect with Vilonia's thoughts.  We understand all the characters' personalities through the conversations.  We feel as though we are members of the community in which they all live.

The narrative flows flawlessly from one moment to the next with true-to-life emotions and events.  Gray ties all of the life threads from other characters' lives into a beautiful blend.  Here are some sample passages.

"It's a perfect day to play ball!" I held my arms out to the sun, and a cool breeze brushed my face.  It was the Thursday afternoon before spring break.  Nana loved spring.  "Nana would love today."

"She sure would, Tadpole.  She loved to watch you play." Daddy reached into the cab of his truck and tossed my lucky glove my way.  I snatched it midair and ran my fingers across its smooth leather.

"And what about Mama?" I asked, and stabbed the dirt with my toe.  "Think she'll feel like coming?"

Daddy's eyes changed from sunny to cloudy with a chance of rain.  "The forecast changes daily when it comes to Mama, Vi.  But I can ask.  You know she's your biggest fan."

"I know."  I tried to hide my disappointment.  I knew Daddy was doing his absolute best to take care of us, Mama included.  But I've learned grief has no rules.  She'll make herself at home, eat all your best snacks, sleep in your bed, and no matter what you do or say, sometimes nothing on earth can make her leave.

Ava Claire was all ruffles and tutus and sparkly dance shoes---everything I wasn't.  I'd played softball since I could swing a bat, but Ava Claire wasn't interested the minute she laid her brown eyes on those "ugly spiked shoes."  She's rather twirl onstage in scratchy sequins under one thousand-watt lights.  Yeah, we went together like toothpaste and orange juice, but if anyone tried picking on either one of us, we stuck together like gum to a shoe.

I looked to the back of the bus, hoping to catch Rory's eye, but Mr. Danny, our bus driver who's older than dirt but somehow still has his driver's license, came over the loud speaker.

"I need everyone to listen up and sit down.  I've survived two hurricanes, a wife, and a war.  I'm getting y'all to school safe and sound.  Ya' hear?

There is so much laughter, life and love in Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge written by Kristin L. Gray you will read it in one sitting and eagerly start it all over again.  After reading several pages aloud to a group of third grade students, hands went in the air to be the first to read it cover to cover.  This would make for a great read aloud.  Make sure you have a copy for your personal and professional bookshelves.

You are going to enjoy visiting Kristin L. Gray's website by following the link attached to her name.  The information she shares is like sitting down to chat with her one on one.  There is a special post at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.to celebrate the cover reveal.  Kristin is interviewed at author Wendy McLeod MacKnight's site, Tuesday Writers,  author Patricia Bailey's site, and author Melissa Roske's site.